WASHINGTON, Sept 3 — Donald Trump’s former attorney general said yesterday the US government appeared justified in raiding the former president’s home to recover classified materials — and that he suspected they have “good” evidence of obstruction.

Legal pressure on Trump has ratcheted up since the FBI’s August 8 raid, with details emerging of documents labeled secret improperly stored at his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida, his team delaying authorities’ access to the material, and then falsely claiming they had turned over all classified papers.

“For them to have taken things to the current point, they probably have good evidence,” Bill Barr, who led the Justice Department in the latter half of the Trump administration, said on Fox News.

“If they clearly have the president moving stuff around, hiding stuff in his desk, and telling people to dissemble with the government, they may be inclined to bring that case,” he said.

Barr spoke after a Florida court filing by the Justice Department detailed what the Federal Bureau of Investigation retrieved in its raid on the former president’s estate, which is also an exclusive club for dues-paying members.

The filing showed highly classified government documents, including some marked “Top Secret,” were discovered in his personal office, two months after Trump attorneys told Justice officials in a sworn certification that there were no more classified materials on the premises.

The detailed list of what was seized August 8 also showed Trump held on to more than 11,000 unclassified government records that he claims are his to keep — but legally are owned by the National Archives.

“People say this was unprecedented,” Barr said of the raid. “Well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club.” The list appeared to provide support for the Justice Department’s probe.

In their warrant for the raid, they cited the Espionage Act which forbids the retention and sharing of highly sensitive documents pertaining to national defence; the law against obstructing investigation; and a law against destruction of government documents.

Among the papers seized were 18 documents labelled “top secret”, 53 labelled “secret” and another 31 marked “confidential.” Of those, seven top secret files, 17 secret files and three confidential files were retrieved from Trump’s private office.

Agents also found several dozen empty folders labelled “classified” in the office, raising speculation that sensitive documents may have been lost, destroyed or moved.

Much of what agents found there and in a separate storeroom was intermixed in boxes with Trump’s personal legal files, clothing, gifts and books gathered in his final days in the White House in January 2021.

‘Smash and grab’

Trump has sued to have the documents turned over to a neutral “special master,” a move which could slow the government’s investigation and possibly allow him to regain control of files he does not want made public or used in other probes.

The August action came after 15 months of haggling between Trump, the National Archives and FBI over the records he took with him to Florida.

In January he gave back 15 boxes of material to the Archives which, after discovering top secret documents mixed in with them, informed the Justice Department.

Using a subpoena, top Justice officials visited the estate in June and collected another batch of classified files.

But it discovered that more remained there, and obtained a court warrant to return in August.

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said on Twitter that the inventory of seized items, including personal affects, “was not some surgical, confined search and retrieval that the Biden administration claims, it was a smash and grab,” a reference to jewellery store thefts.

Barr, who as attorney general supported Trump strongly in 2019 and 2020 but is now a critic, called Trump’s actions with the documents “foolish” and “inexplicable.” But he also said he hopes the Justice Department will not charge Trump.

“Given the fact that this is a former president, given the state of the nation, and given the fact that the government has gotten its documents back, does it really make sense to bring a case?” The Florida judge, Aileen Cannon, still has not ruled on Trump’s request for a special master to take control of the documents for a review. — AFP